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The USO: Making Every Moment Count

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The USO: Making Every Moment Count

The USO Behind the Scenes: Making Every Moment CountThough not affiliated with the United States government, the 501(c)(3) military nonprofit U.S.O. (United Service Organizations) has, for more than 70 years, been one of the United States’ troops’ most dedicated advocates.

They focus on helping those in greatest need: forward-deployed troops and their families, the wounded, recent veterans transitioning to civilian life, and families of the fallen. 

They’re perhaps known best for arranging celebrity tours to lift the spirits of America’s troops (54 tours to 17 countries featuring 94 celebrity entertainers in 2014 alone), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They also provide care packages to troops at forward operating bases around the world, sponsor free phone calls between troops and their families and run a variety of programs in support of military families—including the sensitive work of reuniting families with the remains of loved ones killed in the current military.

They maintain 160 locations worldwide, visited 7 million times a year, where troops and their families benefit from these services. And they do it all with only 600 paid staff members, a feat made possible by more than 30,000 volunteers who, in 2014, gave more than 1.6 million hours of their time. It’s a private, nonprofit and non-partisan organization that meets all 20 Better Business Bureau Standards for Charity Accountability and is a Gold-level GuideStar Exchange participant.

In honor of Memorial Day, USO Delaware director Bruce Kmiec spoke with about the impact and meaning of the USO’s work.

Legacy: What are the USO’s Delaware facilities like?

Bruce: We have two beautiful centers that cost around a million dollars total for the construction, which was donated by several different local community businesses and a couple of corporate businesses. The big one that we have is in the passenger terminal, in which we see roughly 100,000 military members and their families come through.

Legacy: In a nutshell, what is the USO’s mission?

Bruce: We take care of anything that happens within the state of Delaware with the military… deployments, homecomings. We put on several different events on the center, on the base and throughout the state for fundraising, also. And then one of our most solemn missions is taking care of the families of the fallen. Anybody that’s killed overseas in the current military comes through Dover. 

We do a lot, but that’s the entire effort of the worldwide USO The 160 USOs that we work with on a daily basis to get the families moved within just a couple days to come here to see their loved ones that were killed in action, and the fallen heroes come back to be repatriated on our ramp right outside our USO here. And then they make their way down to the mortuary. And this all happens within 48 to 60 hours from the time of killed in action.

We’ve been doing it since 1991, and we've never missed a dignified transfer of any fallen hero that ended up killed in action and returned to Dover. The fallen may be at Dover for six or seven days, so the family will always be home in time to make arrangements and everything else before the fallen get back. So that’s a little bit about what we do.

Legacy: How do you and your partners support families of the fallen?

Bruce: It’s probably the biggest event in their life that they have to go through, and the state that they’re in, they don't even realize how they’re moving and how they’re getting here until it’s over, and then they go, “The USO just took care of me like no one else ever did in my life.” So we work with each center that’s located in the airports, and they assist the family as soon as they get off the plane. We get them through security, get them through the T.S.A., get them right onto the next airplane, and very, very fluid. They don’t even have to check their stuff, it’s all taken care of for them, and by the time they know it, they’re here at Dover.

Legacy: When it comes serving those in the current military with event tickets and such, what are some of the reactions you get from them?

Bruce: Like I tell a lot of people, I often get notes or letters back [from recipients of concert tickets and other USO-arranged events]. They always say, “Can you hear me smile?” And that really hits home. “Can you hear me smiling? I’m at Dover Motor Speedway.” They’ll text me or email me.

On my little farm down South, I know everyone around. I can walk in any store and they say the same thing, “Your troops from Dover just came in here.” I said, “They’re not my troops, they’re your troops, they’re our troops from the state of Delaware.” And [they say], “They were smiling and were showing me the tickets.” But that’s the biggest thing. I usually get a text from several leaders and troops that tell me, ask me if I can hear them smile while they’re at the Speedway.